By Megan Mawicke

CHICAGO (CBS) — Instead of cutting high school sports, Batavia has expanded its wrestling program by creating a girls team.

Girls wrestling is an emerging sport in the state, but it has really taken hold with female grapplers in Batavia.

“I benefit from this sport so much. Why would I deprive that from anybody, including 51 percent of the population who might be women and girls?”

So Batavia head wrestling coach Scott Bayer held an informational meeting for a potential all-girls wrestling team, not sure if it would really stick. But it did.

“Girls have always competed against guys. It’s been very intimidating for them I think,” Bayer said. “They are inspiring. They are like sponges,” Bayer said. “Every day they come to the room and want to learn.”

“A lot of girls don’t know how fun wrestling can really be,” said Batavia wrestler Taylin Long, a 2017 national champion in the 108 lb. weight class. “It’s very challenging. It’s not for everyone.”

Taylin is the one girl with experience. The Bulldogs now boast 14 girls on its inaugural team. They practice side-by-side with the boys’ team. And Batavia recently hosted its first all-girls dual meet with seven schools participating.

“It was big,” said new wrestler and sophmore Erna Haskovic. “It was changing history at our school and I am proud to be a part of that.”

Girls wrestling is growing. Over 17,000 in the country right now. But Illinois is lagging behind. Coach Bayer hopes that will change and that it will become an IHSA-sanctioned sport in the near future.

“I don’t think we have thought outside the box as a wrestling community until now,” Bayer said. “We see wrestling numbers declining. Frankly the guys’ sport is in trouble so we need to broaden our message.”

Over the next three to five years, Batavia is hoping to have 20-30 girls wrestling at all levels and eventually an IHSA state tournament, just like the boys.